Residents dripping mad over water pressure

Residents dripping mad over water pressure

Theresa Munroe, 92, of Golden Boulevard, North Smithfield, points out a water bottle she has in case her water fully runs out. While helpful, it can’t assist with laundry, dishes, or showers. (Breeze photos by Tom Ward)
Town funds study out of Slatersville water fund

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Life on Golden Boulevard requires strategic use of limited water, and 92-year-old Theresa Munroe has a routine.

Munroe begins each day by filling a tub with soapy water to soak her dirty dishes. She’ll wash them later, when her neighbors go to work and the pressure is higher.

Relatives often bring by five-gallon jugs that sit on her counter as a backup supply for when nothing comes out of the tap.

Laundry can never be done on Mondays, she says. She tried one time and nearly broke her washer because it took so long to fill. Showers must be taken late at night.

“You have to get used to who is doing what at what time,” Munroe said.

Munroe lives on a street where seven homes are serviced by a 2-inch water main, put in by private developers in the 1950s. The street was built before modern regulations required that such infrastructure be turned over to the municipality, and the substandard line is considered the property of residents. Water is sent through the pipes by the Woonsocket Water Department.

Officials in both North Smithfield, where Munroe’s house sits, and Woonsocket, where she pays her bill, have been slow to act, saying the problem ultimately falls to the homeowners.

Residents say water pressure is sometimes so low that it takes two hours to fill a toilet.

The Town Council in North Smithfield did take a first step to address the issue last month, but it was over vocal objections from the water superintendent, who felt funding for the project should not have come from a water system that does not service that area. The board voted 3-1 to have CNA Engineering design water main extensions for Crest Road, Greenwood Street, Buell Avenue and Golden Boulevard, at a combined cost of $7,900.

Funding for the study will come from the Slatersville Water Fund, a town-run system servicing some 420 water users. Russ Carpenter, water and sewer superintendent, was not pleased with the decision.

“There’s no way the money should be coming out of the water department,” said Carpenter. “I agree they have a problem, but Woonsocket is paid for those lines. They charge a maintenance fee.”

Use of the fund was recommend by Town Administrator Gary Ezovski, who said that money for the study will be reimbursed.

“This project is a strange one. We’re in an area where the water system is not owned by the town of North Smithfield,” said Ezovski. “This thing falls in a black hole. We’re between rocks and hard places,” he added. “Anything that we do is going to be criticized. It’s not easy.”

Councilor Paul Zwolenski agreed with the superintendent and ultimately cast the dissenting vote.

“I want to bring relief to the residents over there and make sure that they have palatable drinking water, pressure to take showers and fire suppression for safety reasons,” Zwolenski said. “But I’m not sure the money should be coming out of the Slatersville Water Fund.”

Zwolenski said that after North Smithfield funds the expense of improving these lines, Woonsocket could assume ownership of the pipes. Town Council President John Beauregard noted that in talks with Woonsocket officials, he had learned that they would not fund the project.

“Woonsocket just wants to sell the water, which is coming out of a reservoir in North Smithfield,” Zwolenski said. “That’s kind of a cool deal.”

But Ezovski referenced grander plans.

“We can own it,” said the administrator. “This is the beginning of what could be many new lines. There are thousands of feet of these same circumstances throughout Union Village.”

Ezovski said the town plans to apply for federal grant funding.

“We need it. I believe we need to do something,” he said. “It’s simply a circumstance that happened before many standards were in place.”

Carpenter remained unconvinced.

“I get no revenue from that,” he said, noting that installation of new pipes will cost $250,000 to $300,000.

“Where are you going to get money to pay that?” Carpentier asked. “It’s never going to happen.”

He suggested officials use some of the $450,000 the council placed in the town’s contingency budget in June, an idea that Ezovski quickly dismissed.

“No. That was not done for that purpose,” Ezovski said. “We need municipal offices. We need a police station that can function. That’s the infrastructure that we’re talking about. We have kids in classrooms without adequate roofs. That contingency is there to rebuild our balance sheet. I don’t want to spend a nickel.”

For Munroe, it’s urgent that someone steps in to help. The closest fire hydrant, she notes, is on Smithfield Road. Sometimes she can’t even get her faucet to drip.

When she moved to the property in 1954, Munroe says water pressure was not too bad. But while most main lines are flushed every so often to clean out sediment, the 2-inch pipes on her road are too small for such routine maintenance, allowing less and less water through them over time.

A quarterly bill that was once around $100 now costs just $35 because so little water can get to her house.

“I’ve paid my taxes and they do absolutely nothing for us,” she said. “I don’t want to move. It’s a nice little house and it’s comfortable.”

But Carpenter noted that there’s no guarantee that the Slatersville Water ratepayers will ever see a refund.

“Read the rules of the Water Department before you start taking money for the general taxpayer. I’ve been dealing with Woonsocket since 2010,” Carpenter said. “In seven years they haven’t done anything. There’s other people in this town that have water problems.”

In communication with The Breeze this week, Ezovski noted that there are indeed many throughout Union Village facing similar problems.

“While I am not aware of any other location with conditions that duplicate the exact circumstance now existing on Golden Boulevard where residents indicate pressure and volume are poor, information we do have supports belief that there are over 9,000 feet of water lines that are undersized in that area,” Ezovski said. “I am determined to find a way to begin acting on replacement for some of those lines to avoid a condition where we have future pressure and volume complaints.”

On Golden Boulevard, the problem caused three consecutive tenants who moved into a home for rent to evacuate soon after. Realtor Brian Bursell has been representing the owner, who lives in New Hampshire.

“He didn’t quite understand the magnitude of the water issue,” Bursell said of his client. “The real issue is you can’t take a shower.”

Bursell said the owner has been renting a home out of state while waiting to sell the property. A buyer did come forward with plans to install a booster pump on the house, but Bursell was told it could not be done, as it would negatively affect the pressure at the other six homes. Others told him the pump would not fix the problem.

“That killed our deal,” he said.

Further complicating the issue, the property has an oddly-shaped backyard and companies have said they would not be able to get equipment in to drill a well. The Department of Health will not grant permission to put a well in the front, meanwhile, because officials say the property is too close to the street.

The property has been taken off the market for lack of a solution.

“We’re at a complete impasse,” Bursell said. “He needs to sell this home. He doesn’t know where to go.”

Bursell said neighbors have asked him to remain quiet about the issue.

“The residents are concerned the Department of Health will condemn all of the houses in the neighborhood if they find out they can’t take a shower and they’ll have to move,” Bursell said.

Munroe said she remains hopeful that the problem will be addressed.

“I’m not going to die without taking a good shower,” she said.

Editor’s Note: Mrs. Munroe is the aunt of Valley Breeze Publisher Tom Ward.

A home for sale on Golden Boulevard, North Smithfield, in the area where residents have been complaining of inadequate water pressure, has been taken off the market for lack of a water solution.

Comments

If these lines are OWNED by Woonsocket and they are the ones selling the water AND being paid for the water, than why arent they paying to fix these lines? Would be interesting to see Woonsocket's response.

A temporary solution to the Golden Boulevard water problem could be as simple as connecting a 5/8 “ garden hose to a reasonably nearby house with adequate supply. Assuming the cooperation of a sympathetic neighbor, the connection is made from the outside faucet of the “donor” house to the outside faucet of the distressed family. A clothes washer hose section is used to mate properly with the receiving faucet.
The existing basement supply line would have to be turned off during this temporary fix.
The recipient should of course be considerate of the donor’s prime time water consumption and would be required to compensate the “donor” for the additional water usage.
Bottled water should still be used for drinking and cooking.
This has worked well for those of us on private wells when a neighbor has had pump failure and would be workable until temperatures drop below freezing.

L.Benoit
No. Smithfield

Fixing one or two issues doesn't address the entire Woonsocket/NS relationship. As a former Union Village resident, we spent 14 years with low pressure (about 30 pounds per square inch) and continuously adjusted usage accordingly.

The issue here isn't one line, it is every line within NS serviced by Woonsocket. The Woonsocket water department was always sympathetic but in the end, they simply couldn't get by in from their leaders to fix a problem in NS.

The one time I saw them fix a water main break, NS was supposed to step up and pave the road after. It sat open for a month before Woonsocket had to do it to protect the new main. Fix the relationship.

Art Bassett

I have never seen such childish mismanagement. Get off from chasing your tails in a vicious circle, and take some action to fix the issue. These are ppl's health and well-being here. Quit passing the buck, this is an emergency situation at this point. How can ppl reasonably be expected to survive a dead-end situation. Move on it already.

In answer to Smithy (at top), the water lines are not owned by Woonsocket. They were put in by a developer, and never "accepted" by North Smithfield. Woonsocket merely sells the water. - Tom Ward

Water issues are a town concern, we have residents with no water (if it takes 2 hours to just fill a toilet, that is a serious health and safety issue), we have residents with contaminated wells and no plan in place to help them (I'm in that group with many others). How much more should we pay before anyone cares and does something about our town providing adequate water? This new leadership is such a complete and utter let down, they don't listen to our Budget Committee, the PBIC, any other employee, or hired expert. They'll continue to raise taxes and waste our tax dollars and time, while on one side of town we can't take showers or flush a toilet, on the other side we are scared to take showers and cook with contaminated water. I haven't seen ONE good choice this council has made. Shame on North Smithfield past and present leadership who have known about these conditions, allowing it to ever occur and even worse, continue.
Roseanne

Other options need to be investigated before the town spends ~$100,000 installing a new water main on Golden Blvd. The problem can almost certainly be solved for less than $10,000.

I would suggest-

Each of the seven homes on Golden Boulevard need to install a 100 gallon potable water holding tank (~$200) with a 1/4" fill / float valve(~$20). Followed by a booster pump and pressure tank (~$800).

In combination with low flow shower heads and toilets, there will be more than enough water.

Even if the water main on Golden Blvd can only supply 2 gallons per minute (if it is possible for even one person on the street to take a shower as indicated by the article, then there is at least 2gpm available), that is 2,880 gallons per day. And per capita daily water consumption is only 90 gallons per day. So, 2 gallons per minute is enough for 32 people, if handled as I described above.

I agree with the post above to use a water tank. In the 'rural' part of town, we use wells instead of city water. When a well has low flow/pressure, a storage tank is installed that fills when water is not being used and is emptied when demand is greater than the supply. I did a lot of research on this when planning my irrigation system and it will surely cost less than 200-300k for 7 homes.

Thanks for your thoughts and encouragement to pursue practical alternatives. The idea of booster pumps has been considered as a short term solution but the overriding issue here is the continuing degradation of the supply line in the street. As time goes on the flow in the line will continue to diminish. Given the age and material, at this point aggressive maintenance efforts also aren't an option for fear the line will completely plug or break with either result making matters worse.
With the cooperation of the current town council we are determined to find a long term solution and financial assistance.
Gary Ezovski

You are correct that in the long term the water main should be replaced. And, when the road is due to be repaved, that should definitely happen.

However, in the meantime, there is an affordable and immediate solution readily available.

This is the time for our Elected Officials to Shine.Enough talk and more action

Taking advantage of the problems these people are facing just to take a cheap shot? The issue on Golden Blvd. did not just happen over the past eight months. This problem has been known for the past twelve years. And for twelve years no Town Officials have done anything to help these people. And that includes the council you sat on for two years. You say shame on past and present leadership who have known about these conditions and allowed it to continue. I agree, however you were part of that past leadership that did nothing. I personally visited Mrs. Monroe's home and observed the problem first hand. I left that house determined to help solve this problem. This council is the only council and Administrator to take the first step in helping these residents. Once this engineering study is complete we will come up with a plan to solve this issue.

John A. Beauregard
Town Council President

So I actually live on Golden BLVD and the matter of water here is getting worse seemingly by the day. I moved here two years ago and at first it was like "oh looks like I can't water my grass today" and has progressed to "well there's literally no water for the shower today." Not figuratively...LITERALLY no water when you turn the shower on. This happens more often than I'd like to admit. Even on the best day you basically have to hug the shower head to get enough water through your hair to wash it.

For a tangible idea of how the pressure is, think about this small example. When I do water my grass (which I only did a couple times in the spring after laying down some new grass seed, I don't water it routinely out of respect for my neighbors) there is not even enough pressure to get the sprinkler to go from right to left. You can water maybe on 15sq ft patch of grass at a time. Think about that, how much pressure does it take to get a sprinkler to go left to right? Whatever it is...we dont have it. This is a small somewhat comical example and doesn't compare to my neighbor Ms Monroe who has to take dramatic steps to manage her water based on the day but still it's a real problem and can't really be fixed by the homeowners themselves. I'm interested in this water tank idea but end of the day the pipes are so small (2 inches, supposed to be 6) and old and likely clogged that this seems like band aid more than a cure.

Truthfully I just want water. It's such a simple thing to want, such a basic element of home ownership that people take for granted. But when you don't have it, man it's tough. And it's frustrating that we pay taxes and participate in the community and are constituents who vote for people to serve our community yet when we really need something what we have is multiple entities saying "it's not MY responsibility, it's YOUR responsibility." Like, fine, but while everybody is fighting I'm huddled against my shower wall trying to get shampoo out of my hair or taking 45 minutes to an hour to fill the tub to give my 2 year old a bath and my neighbor can't do laundry on Mondays or whatever. At this point I don't even care who fixes just pleeeeease somebody do SOMETHING!

I was at the town council meeting along with my entire street in early June while we discussed this. I left that meeting encouraged that something was going to happen. I felt like we had been listened to and each member of the council understood our issues and several had even visited our properties. But now it's two months later and I don't think it's unreasonable to expect some kind of progress here. What exactly is being done to help resolve our issue???

Why do we need a "STUDY" When we KNOW what the problem is ? The problem is a PLUGGED water line ! That has already been determined ! So why do we need to throw MORE MONEY at something we know what the problem is ! I am so sick and tired of STUDY after STUDY after STUDY ! MONEY MONEY MONEY down the drain while the TAX PAYER is ON the HOOK for POLITICAL RED TAPE ! JUST FIX the PROBLEM already !

Is there any agency that will provide financing to have a water line put in?

If the water district or town pays to fix this problem, extended logic would suggest it would also pay to repair individuals wells if those failed. Where does this stop? We can empathize with the folks on Golden but need to carefully assess how fast and how we expand town water services.

George Hemond. (Just George)

All homeowners should pool their money and pay to have a common well dug. It is not the town's responsibility to fix a privately owned system.